More Committees Announce Closure Dates.  

The Tennessee legislature continued its mid-session stride this week, with full committee calendars, budget presentations wrapping up, appropriation amendments being filed, and committees announcing closure dates.  All in all, the feasibility of a late-April adjournment appears all the more likely, now that committee closures are announced and the budget process is underway.

More House subcommittees announced their closure dates this week, with the Transportation, Health,  K-12 Education, Agriculture & Natural Resources, Departments & Agencies and Education Instruction Subcommittees all announcing that they will conclude their business on March 30.  Business & Utilities, Banking & Consumer Affairs, and Public Service Subcommittees will close on March 31st.  In the Senate, the Energy, Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee closed this week and the Health & Welfare and Transportation & Safety Committees will have their final meeting on March 31st.

Speakers File Joint Bill to Tackle Legislators Doing Business with State

 The House State Government Committee passed a bill this week that prohibits state officials and state employees from bidding on, selling, or offering to sell to the state “services” in addition to the prohibition on selling “goods.”  The legislation, introduced by House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R- Crossville) and Lt. Gov. Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) represents a rare, joint leadership effort that cracks down on lawmakers doing business with the state, an issue that gained increased attention this year in the wake of an ongoing FBI case involving multiple lawmakers and campaign marketing businesses.  If passed, the bill would prevent lawmakers with political consulting companies from billing other members’ state postage and printing accounts for constituent update mailers. Current law prohibits elected officials in Tennessee from selling “goods” to the state and the legislation bolsters this prohibition to include selling “services.”  The Senate State & Local Government Committee will consider the measure next week, with the likelihood of passage high. 

Certificate of Need Legislation Begins Journey in Legislature 

Drawing attention from all corners of the health care industry, the Senate Health & Welfare Committee advanced legislation this week that makes significant changes to Tennessee’s Certificate of Need law, with the stated goal being to break down barriers to competition, improve access to care, promote consumerism and rural health, and to focus on patients.  Senate sponsor Shane Reeves (R-Murfreesboro) described the measure as “striking a balance between being disruptive, but not destructive.”  The bill represents a continuing effort to revamp the state’s CON process, a legislative undertaking that stalled in conference committee last year after passing both the House and Senate chambers in the waning hours of the 2020 legislative session.  Reeves introduced the exact bill that passed the Senate last year, describing the 51-page bill as “the best piece of legislation I’ve worked on” while serving in the General Assembly. 

The measure includes significant changes to the Certificate of Need process in Tennessee, including eliminating the economic feasibility requirement for projects, expediting CON approval from 135 to 60 days, limiting CON opposition to competitors within a 35-mile radius of a proposed project, eliminating frivolous appeals by competitors, and requiring CON competitors to disclose grounds for opposition before an application is heard by the Board of the Health Services and Development Agency. Additionally, the bill exempts economically distressed counties without a hospital from CON regulation and further provides that mental health hospitals are no longer be subject to CON regulation.  Moreover, non-pediatric MRI services, PET scan services, and outpatient diagnostic centers (ODCs) would no longer be subject to CON regulation in counties with a population in excess of 175,000 (Shelby, Davidson, Hamilton, Rutherford, Williamson, Sumner, Montgomery, and Knox), and existing facilities would be able to increase and redistribute their acute, psychiatric, and rehabilitation beds without CON regulation. The Tennessee Hospital Association expressed concerns on the population threshold of 175,000, specifically for ODCs. The legislation will be heard in the Senate Finance, Ways & Means Committee next week, but has yet to move in the House.

$700 Million in TANF Funds Has Spending Plan 

Lawmakers and Governor Bill Lee’s administration reached an agreement this week regarding plans to spend down the Temporary Assistance of Needy Family (TANF) fund that currently sits at just over $700 million. The compromise legislation combines ideas from Lee and several lawmakers that have worked on these plans for the past few years, including $182 million for the creation of the Tennessee Opportunity Pilot Program to improve education, health and economic outcomes for families, $50 million for community grants offered to nonprofits organizations to aid their region and incentives for TANF recipients to enroll in trade school.  The legislation increases penalties for committing fraud with the funds, while also increasing the amounts of cash assistance to eligible families. The annual reserve will be capped at $191 million, or the amount the federal government contributes to the state each year. A TANF advisory board would also be created under the legislation to select recipients for the grants and to evaluate the success of the program. The measure is sponsored by Representative Bryan Terry (R-Murfreesboro) and Senator Bo Watson (R-Hixson), which will be heard in the House Government Operations Committee and Senate Health & Welfare Committee next week.

Looking Ahead 

 With committees announcing closing dates, sponsors and supporters of legislation that has not yet begin to move will need to determine their final intentions over the coming days.   In addition, there are always the last minute amendments to caption bills to revel their true intent.  Along those lines, please make sure to look over your bill tracking report and inform us of any concerns of questions.  

Have a great weekend.